Minnesota Timberwolves: Defensive purpose on show against the New Orleans Pelicans

Minnesota Timberwolves, Anthony Edwards. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Timberwolves, Anthony Edwards. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /

In recent seasons, the Minnesota Timberwolves have struggled to fix their porous defense, especially on the perimeter. So, you can understand the excitement amongst the fan base after yesterday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, where both Josh Okogie and D’Angelo Russell put in solid performances on the business end of the floor. Heck, even Anthony Edwards was getting in on the action as he hustled his way through his 22 minutes of game time.

There was decisiveness and aggression from the opening tip and anchored by Karl-Anthony Towns; the team’s defensive structure allowed the Timberwolves to build a commanding lead as the game wore on. With their intense ball pressure, and the switchability of each rotation, the Timberwolves’ defense bore fruit in the form of 22 turnovers, resulting in 26.5 percent of the team’s total buckets.

"Against any NBA team, 21 turnovers and 31 points off of our turnovers. It’s tough to win games like that. – Willie Green said after the Timberwolves hounded the New Orleans Pelicans on defense."

Josh Okogie was phenomenal on the defensive end, as he threw his body around to disrupt the Pelicans offense and got some impressive stops as a result. The fourth-year wing displayed solid positional IQ and got multiple stops as both an on-ball and help defender, with the culmination of his performance being this impressive block following his weak-side rotation.

In the above clip, Okogie is operating on what’s known as the low help-line; think of it like an imaginary rectangle that runs across the baseline up to roughly four feet outside the rim (commonly known as floater range). Okogie situates himself just outside of the low-block to recover to the corner if required or rotate over to protect the rim, which he does in the above clip and gets the block as a result.

That’s the other part of defense: having solid positional IQ and knowing when to help vs. when to stand pat. It helps when you’re explosive enough to cover ground quickly and agile enough to have fast lateral quickness or rapid changes of direction. Okogie displayed multiple facets of his defensive upside against the Pelicans and gave himself a great platform to build upon.

Anthony Edwards’ defensive showing gives the Minnesota Timberwolves cause for cautious excitement…

Anthony Edwards’ commitment on the defensive side of the ball was a huge exclamation mark on his off-season development. We’re all well aware of Edwards’ offensive potential, but with his ability to change directions and impact ball-handlers by using his athleticism and intensity, seeing him “buy-in” to a defensive role is exceptionally encouraging.

Was this Edwards’ only defensive highlight from a game where he finished with two blocks, two steals, three deflections, three loose ball recoveries, and eleven contested shots, with seven of them coming on the perimeter? Absolutely not. Edwards was engaged on both sides of the court and seemingly took pride in locking down his opposing man.

There’s something about the great players, a fire in them that allows them great pleasure in obstructing the success of an offense. Some of those players enter the league with a defensive hunger; others develop it along their way.

And from all of Edwards’ talk about averaging two or three steals per game and how Chris Finch has been complimentary about the sophomore wings application in training, it looks like the 20-year-old has developed a similar fire.

Against the Pelicans, no other Timberwolves player contested as many shots, and no other player surpassed Edwards’ loose ball recoveries or deflections. You see, deflections are just as crucial as steals when measuring defensive impact. Each deflection kills offensive momentum and indicates the defending player was situated in the correct position to attack the passing lane – it shows how active and locked in a player was when pressuring the ball-handler or off-ball recipient.

Suppose Edwards’ commitment to the defense side of the floor is authentic, and he continues to impact the game similarly to how he influenced the preseason opener. In that case, the Timberwolves are about to witness their young star take a monumental jump.

Team wide defensive takeaway

Nothing has been easy for the Minnesota Timberwolves of late. Still, the off-court turbulence and inconsistent play over the last few seasons can serve as a lesson for this year’s iteration of the roster. Winning isn’t easy. Not at the NBA level, at least. So, if the Timberwolves can take this performance and use it as a foundation on which to build upon, they’re going to be knocking on the door of post-season play all season long. The talent, athleticism, and the potential upside are all there, but the players need to be keyed in on both sides of the floor; it’s no use trying to outgun everybody.

The performance against the Pelicans was encouraging, but this is still only preseason, and it was the first game at that. If we see this level of effort in the coming days, there will be plenty of reasons to get excited about where this team is heading under Chris Finch.